Archive for November, 2006

November 27, 2006

what barrio dreams are made of.

by la rebelde

One evening last summer I sat outside in my brother’s driveway, watching the sunset on the west side while my bro tried to repair the window on his car door. In this working-class pocket of the rapidly growing suburbs of ‘burque, young brown families went about their evening. Children rode their bikes, parents fixed their cars and folks say “wassup” to each other from driveways, across streets and gravel-landscaped front lawns. My brother told me about the folks who live on his street. They look out for each other, he said. And a lot of them had grown up in the South Valley like we had. When I was a kid, that scene was the epitome of what I imagined for myself, my family, our future—rows of homes where young people tried to make a good life in this world, where children could play in the street because there was no drug dealing, no gang graffiti, none of the visible signs of the dangers of living in the hood. In my 13-year-old head, I thought I’d be married to a nice boy from the neighborhood, moved to a street like my brother’s and popped out a couple of kids by the time I was 29. That was what barrio dreams were made of. At least mine were.

My move to LA was the 6th cross-country move I’ve made since 1991. After college, the longest I’ve stayed in one place was three years and each of those moves were mostly guided by my particular relationship to the academy at the time. Each move required me to pack up my things, to throw away stuff I would (probably) not need, to confront my past through items stashed in backs of closets, in old shoe boxes, and under piles of papers. There’s something about moving that forces you to reevaluate your life.

Moving brings opportunities for new and exciting experiences. But there are also costs, and the biggest of them are not monetary. Moving forces you to leave family, friends, love, community behind. I have missed out on the day-to-day stories told by my grandparents, never-ending bingo sessions with my papá, chatting over tea with my mom, sipping beers with my brothers, playing video games with my nephew. I was not (will not be) there to see close friends finish their dissertations and become profesores, to chat with them over coffee while we attempt to do work, to celebrate birthdays and engagements and the small, but incredibly significant academic achievements along the way that are huge for us in the moment. I’ve seen love and possibilities of love lost because he or I moved, and long-distance relationships were not/no longer an option.

My community is scattered across the country because I am not the only one who has moved. And what I’ve come to depend on, to look forward to, is telephone conversation and the occasional visit, holiday, research trip or conference when we can chill in person. Each time I moved I was able to make new friends/community, and of course, I was able to be there for a dissertation or two, the completion of exams, etc. But LA will not be the last city I will live in. Academics seem to move all over the place, in pursuit of the job or tenure or something like that. My 13-year-old self is long gone. What is left of those barrio dreams? Perhaps I traded them in to follow academic rainbows instead, but I’m not sure what’s at the end—certainly not a pot of gold. Whatever it is, I sure hope it’s worth all this moving.

November 23, 2006

bad things in l.a.

by la rebelde

Since I’ve moved to LA, I’ve noticed that there are particular things that are shown on TV all the time. Things, I think, were not shown as often on TV in other placed I’ve lived–and that’s a lot of places. (For the sake of full disclosure, though, I must admit I’m not a TV person and had no channels until I moved to LA where you can actually get channels without cable.) For one, there is the weekly, sometimes twice a week, car chase. What is this about? Why would you try to out drive an army of police cars? This is one bad thing about endless highway systems–well, aside from that whole empire-building thing, but we won’t get into that right now. And why do they interrupt my primetime television lineup to show this? Also, a couple months ago there was the Paris Hilton arrest for drunk driving. I’m not sure why people care so much. It was on TV for at least three weeks!

But there are worse things. Last week the initial local coverage of the “taser incident” at UCLA failed to mention that the student who was shot TEN TIMES!! was Iranian American. Considering the state of things in this country (pun intended) identity makes a huge difference. What the heck is going on when students of color, studying at the library as students are supposed to do, can be shot by the police for failing to produce an i.d.? Its like border patrol in the fucking library. I guess I should not go to the archives without my citizenship documentation. As if I didn’t hate the library enough before I knew it was a confirmed militarized zone.

Then there was the racist Kramer performance. Can an apology make things better? I really think not. And if his use of the n-word was already violent, his invocation of the history of lynching was even more so. In a women’s history class I taught a few years ago, my students participated in a privilege workshop that asked a number of questions regarding the history of different racial and ethnic groups. The students–all wealthy white girls–had to take steps forward or steps backward depending on their own family history and present-day social identities. One of the questions asked whether your ancestors had been lynched just for being a member of a particular racial/ethnic group. One of my Jewish students asked if she had to step back. Yes, another student responded. I’m not sure if Kramer is Jewish, but if he is and he were taking the privilege workshop with my students, he would have had to take a step back. The thing is, that many assume Kramer to be Jewish because of his performance on the Seinfeld show. Interestingly enough, the bottom of the tmz link, has another link to Mel Gibson who is anti-Semetic. Clearly Mel thinks Jews are still not white enough. My students said the workshop was their favorite part of the course. Maybe Kramer and Mel should take a hint from the children.

Ugh. I’m tired. And I need to get cable.

November 21, 2006

on dissertation writing and going to the gym.

by la rebelde

Last week, determined to finish the draft of my prospectus, I spent the entire week in front of my ‘puter. There were days when I would get up, make a cup of coffee, and head straight to my desk still in my sweat pants, hair unbrushed and face all dewy. I admit it was a shameful sight, but since I am single, who was there to witness? By Wednesday I realized that I had not left my apartment for days and my ass had a feeling reminiscent of my preparation for my qualifying exams (comps, prelims, whatever you want to call it). You know, when your butt cheeks feel like they’ve been pressed together for so long that they will never feel normal again? Yea, it was like that. So I forced myself to make the short, 2-block walk to the gym, my mother’s voice echoing in my head—why would you pay for a gym membership that you only use once a week? (My mother is a dietician. And she’s Chinese American. So that’s a double whammy with the gym issue. Unless you’re Chinese American too, you might not quite understand.)

(this is my desk and my ‘puter where the magical
ass-pressing and hopefully, dissert
ation-writing happens.)

But I re
alized that there was a second voice echoing in my mind: the voice of my profa, who sometimes has very amusing advice in our moments of collegiality. Several months ago, we met at one of my favorite coffee shops in our small Midwestern college town. The springtime was just beginning—my favorite time of year, when the flowers bloom after the succession of dark months—and I had been stuck in coffee shops for weeks, just reading. I should have relished the time! After all, from what others had told me, I would feel “bionically smart” in the few weeks prior to the exam. Profa came over directly from the gym.

“Gosh, you look really tired!” she said. Uh, yea! I had just taken the written exam the day before and our meeting was in preparation for the oral exam, which would be the following day. If I didn’t look tired or worse, something would have been wrong. And after our conversation, in which she grilled me for my thoughts on Trachtenberg’s notion of “incorporation” and I very nervously (and successfully, I might add. whew!) pulled a decent answer out of my ass that had been pressed together for the last few weeks (see above), I tried to make small talk.

“Do you go to the Y?” I asked. The Y was only 2 blocks away from the coffee shop and I had a membership there. Turns out she went to some other gym and she proceeded to tell me all about her trainer and her routine, which made for surprisingly good conversation. Then she busted out the following:

“After your exams, when you’re on fellowship and you’re focused on writing your dissertation, you should definitely go to the gym. It will often be the only time you have human contact. Try spinning. You’ll love it!” So there you have it. As I relayed the conversation to my fellow exam studyin’ homegirl immediately following the meeting, my profa thought I looked like shit and needed to work out.

I was determined not to let the gym be my only human contact once I started writing my dissertation. But since I’ve moved, and don’t have an academic community in LA yet (still working on that), I have become exactly what profa predicted. Sadly, the gym has become a temporary refuge from my ‘puter. And when I finally emailed her my draft—2 weeks later than my deadline—it was 3am. The knot that developed in my stomach soon after did not go away until morning. I hardly slept that night. And I definitely didn’t make it to the gym the next day.

November 20, 2006

a bigger ‘burque but with asians

by la rebelde

Six months ago I would never have thought I would be living in California. In fact, I was very resistant to the idea. Since I travel in circles that are mostly Asian Am and Chican@, it makes sense that I have a lot of friends who grew up in the greater Los Angeles area. In the small college town where I go to school, my friends used to rave about how great Cali is—almost as if it was the promised land for people of color. “You’d be great in California,” they said. “They would love you in California!” Well, that’s a bit of an exaggeration of course. Any place where there is sunshine and brown people is better than a place where one or both of those things are missing.

So I made a difficult decision to move all the way across the country for the sixth (!) time, to a place I had only visited once, where only a few of my friends still live, and where I have only a few family members. These are the kinds of things academics do for the sake of education and research. We pick up our lives and move ourselves, along with our very heavy personal libraries, often to places unknown to us except in books. I’m becoming, after all, a historian of Los Angeles. But our academic selves should not be all of how we define ourselves. At least, its not for me.

My brother graciously traveled with me to help with my apartment search. He’d never been to California before. We drove all the way from the 505 in one day! For those of you who aren’t in the know, the 505 is Nuevo México—another place where sunshine and brown people abound. California people keep thinking I’m closer to home now, but it’s a much longer drive than a lot of people think. Sometimes they forget that the entire state of Arizona lies in between. Yea dude, the U.S. took a lot of freakin land (among other things) back in 1848.

It wasn’t long before my brother completely fell in love with LA. Aside from driving all over the place in search of decent living spaces, we celebrated my birthday with dinner in Chinatown and drinks in Koreatown, chilled at an indigenous hip hop concert before dinner and mariachis in East Los, explored Echo Park, downtown, Pasadena and Alhambra. My anxiety over moving to a new place (again!) contrasted with his excitement about my situation. “LA is like a bigger ‘Burque, but with Asians!” (And, I would add, palm trees.) On the long drive back to the 505, we pondered over what it would have been like to grow up around both Asian Ams and Chican@s. Having spent a stint of our formative years in backwoods small towns in the east, where we were the only Latino family and one of a handful of Asian families, the value of community cannot be underestimated. Nor can the value of good food! I can already tell that its going to be difficult to leave here when the time comes.

November 15, 2006

learning to love los angeles

by la rebelde

The first time I ever visited Los Angeles was over four years ago. I, along with some grad school home girls, came to attend a wedding. V grew up in the Los Angeles area—“east of LA, not in East LA” as she always said—and her friends came to meet us at the Ontario airport. Of the other two of us, they asked, “have you ever been to LA before?”

“No,” we answered.

“Well, there are some mountains over there,” they said gesturing across the highway. “But you can’t see them because of the smog.”

Oh. I’d lived in New York City before. I knew what pollution was. Or so I thought. Then we got into their minivan and headed west on the freeway. To this day, I can’t remember why the windows were down. Maybe they were trying to conserve gas. But by the time we stopped to get a bite to eat, we’d traveled about 10 miles in 45 minutes. And my face felt like a film of smog had settled into my skin. Gross.

My biggest recollection of that trip is that we spent the entire week in the car on the freeways. (With the windows rolled up.) And while I had a great time with my friends during that trip, I firmly decided that I hated LA. People always say that New Yorkers are rude, but I tend to think that brusque is a more accurate description. I loved living in New York. New York is a place where everyone has to share space, whether they like it or not. And while outsiders may think they are rude, at least they say the proper excuse-me’s if they bump into you on the street, in the subway, in the store. In LA that week, I had been literally shoved out of the way on numerous occasions by skinny blonde white girls, who didn’t even give me a second look. How was it that my body was marked as invisible in a place where brown people abound?

After all, my home is a part of Greater Mexico that was conquered by the U.S. and so is Los Angeles. I was convinced that I was experiencing a modern-day form of manifest destiny ideology as cars passed us by, each with only one person in them. These cars were bubbles that enabled passengers to remain isolated from each other. No one had to interact with “other” people if they did not want to. People seemed to feel entitled to space. This was not the kind of street interaction that I was used to in the big city.

I am generally not a fan of being in the car. But now that I live in LA—for over two months now—I think I’m actually starting to get used to it. I hop in the car and spend hours on the freeway, singing along with the radio, as fellow drivers sit just feet away doing the same. And while I can’t say that I like the driving, I’m sure that eventually I’ll learn to love Los Angeles like I learned to love New York.